Can't Buy Happiness?

Money, personality, and well-being

Holiday Gift Giving Tip 2012: Give Experiential Gifts

Experiential gifts bring people closer and create better memories.

A guest blog by Ann Harter

The internet abounds with gift-giving advice this time of year: great gift for dads, moms, kids, siblings, the gardener in your life, the shopaholic, the thrill-seeker, the bookworm, and the impossible to buy for!  My hat is off to you, intrepid gift-giver, for trying to please so many people on one holiday. 

Although I can’t help you find just the right thing for that person on your list who has everything...ok as everybody else is doing it, what the heck: here is our Holiday Gift Giving Tips 2012 from BeyondThePurchase.Org.

If you read this blog frequently, you’ll know that experiential purchases trump material purchases time and time again. Experiential purchases are events we live through, and even though we may pick up a souvenir while we’re there, the event is much more important. Think of concerts, dining out, museums, vacations, or an afternoon spent ice skating. Material purchases are the tangible items that fill our holiday shopping bags: clothes, jewelry, trinkets, etc.

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However, new and exciting research is showing that, not only do experiences make you happier, but experiential gifts also make your loved ones happy too. Our preliminary evidence shows that experiential gifts bring people closer, create better memories, and are more fun to talk about later. Material gifts, on the other hand, are more likely to be perceived as being purchased out of guilt or obligation (“Here. I bought you these diamond earrings because, well, I had to get you something.”).

Of course, this makes perfect sense. A few years ago, my aunt and uncle gave me tickets to see The Lion King musical. I was thrilled. This was not something that I could afford, and I was touched that my aunt and uncle would be so thoughtful. Not only was the performance memorable (the opening number alone is stunning), but even thinking about it now I’m laughing remembering how I slipped (repeatedly) on the icy sidewalks outside the theatre and about driving home through the blizzard that hit our area that night (even if I wasn’t laughing about it then). And I have my beloved aunt and uncle to thank for the experience.

Forget diamonds. Experiences are forever. If you’re struggling to think of what gifts to buy this holiday season, consider tickets to the theatre, gift certificates for the movies or a favorite restaurant, a membership at their favorite museum, or lift tickets at a ski resort. You don't know what to buy for one of your loved ones? Have them login or register with Beyond The Purchase and take our Implicit Buying Motives Study or our Experiential Preferences Scale. Their feedback pages will give you hints as to what they really want this holiday season. Your gift may bring you closer to the most important people you love, help them build new memories, and give them good stories to tell later.

Ryan T. Howell, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at San Francisco State University.

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